10 Tips to Get a Better Sleep Tonight

Phew, what a weekend! I had an action packed weekend, filled with wedding festivities for good friends, hikes and lots of outdoor time soaking up the remaining days of summer! Let’s just say that sleep was not high on my list of priorities… In my normal, day-to-day life, I put massive priority on quality sleep. It’s one of the most important items on my self-care list! Unfortunately so many of my clients (and many other people in our culture) aren’t getting enough sleep and definitely not enough regenerative, QUALITY sleep. In general, a healthy adult requires 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. I’ve mentioned it before, but sleep plays a HUGE role in fertility, your hormones and overall general health. I’m often asked for tips and tricks to aid in getting an awesome night of sleep, so without further adieu, I give you my top 10 tips!

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Black out your room

No, REALLY black out your room. No LED lights from alarm clocks, fire alarms, TV’s etc. Blackout shades are the best, but a great eye mask will work as well. Light exposure at night diminishes melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland, a small gland in the brain. Melatonin helps control your sleep and wake cycles. Normally, melatonin levels begin to rise in the mid- to late evening getting us sleepy and ready for bed, levels remain high for most of the night allowing us to stay asleep, and then drop in the early morning hours in preparation for waking up. Beyond regulating our sleep cycles, melatonin has a protective effect on egg quality and is super important for hormone balance and fertility. In a new review of previous studies published in the journal Fertility and Sterility1, a research team concluded that steady artificial nighttime light or even periods of light disruption when you’re trying to sleep can warp your internal clock, make it harder to conceive or even affect fetal development if you’re already pregnant. Melatonin is also produced in the reproductive tract and has a protective effect on eggs, blocking damage from free radicals – especially during ovulation, when eggs are most vulnerable, write the researchers. The suppression of melatonin production during pregnancy can harm a fetus too, they add, potentially triggering problems with a developing baby’s biological clock and contribute to health issues down the line. The more light you’re exposed to at night, when your body is trying to wind down to get you to sleep, the more melatonin production is decreased – reducing the odds of conception or threatening fetal health, researchers concluded.

No electronic gadgets in the bedroom

This means TV, Kindles, phones, laptops, iPad’s – you name it. Get the electronics completely out of the bedroom. And better yet – unplug your WiFi router before going to bed to minimize the electro-magnetic field (EMF) pollution you’re exposed to at night. Wi-Fi routers, wireless laptops and tablet computers (iPads) emit man-made pulsed digital microwave radiation. Hundreds of peer reviewed studies show that this type of microwave radiation has serious biological effects and common spaces such as schools, public libraries and communities throughout the world are starting to dismantle wireless systems and are returning to wired technology because of an increase in headaches, fatigue, tinnitus, heart palpitations, memory and concentration problems and ADD/ADHD among children and adults2.

Turn off all your devices by 9:00pm

Exposure to blue light from electronics tells our eyes that it isn’t nighttime and turns off our body’s production of melatonin. See tip #1 for reasons why optimal production of melatonin is so important!

Go to bed early, no later than 10:30pm

Get at least 7-9 hrs of sleep. You should wake up without an alarm, feeling refreshed! The adrenal glands have a specific circadian rhythm that they adhere to. Cortisol (one of the major adrenal hormones) is highest first thing in the morning which naturally wakes us up and gets us out of bed, and then cortisol levels begin to naturally fall throughout the day until they are at their very lowest levels around 10:00pm. When we stay up late, we force the adrenals to start working again to produce cortisol. Beyond exhausting the adrenal glands, this pulling on the adrenal glands does something else in the body as well. Eventually, it will also exhaust other elements of the endocrine system. Remember that the endocrine system is the system in charge of regulating hormones and fertility.

Manage your stress levels

We already know by now that stress has an important relationship with sleep — more stress equals less quality sleep, in most cases. Clayton Sleep Institute researchers discovered in 2009 a “bidirectional relationship” between chronic stress and sleep issues. People suffering from chronic stress were more likely to sleep shorter and sleep worse, experiencing daytime impairments to follow. In the study, daytime impairments and shorter sleep also led to complaints of habitual stress3. Poor sleep can also alter the immune system’s stress response – increasing the risk of mental and physical health problems by increasing inflammation in the body, as seen in a 2012 study conducted on older adults4. And unsurprising to many of us, researchers likewise confirmed a reciprocal, causal relationship between job stress and poor sleep in 2015, showing that daytime stress can impact sleep quality and create a stress-sleep disturbance cycle that is hard to break5.

Dim the lights around you when the sun goes down

This encourages our body to start producing melatonin when it naturally would in response to the sun setting and natural darkness outside.

Exercise daily and spend some time outside each day

People sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, a new study concludes6. A nationally representative sample of more than 2,600 men and women, ages 18-85, found that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week (that’s only 20 minutes per day, which is the national guideline), provided a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality.

Skip the sugar and large, heavy meals right before bed

Eating sugary foods (i.e. chocolate, ice cream, cookies, dessert) late at night causes a large rise in blood sugar. In response, the pancreas releases a surge of insulin to get the sugar out of the blood and into cells. This causes a drastic drop in blood sugar, or a crash. A blood sugar crash alerts the adrenals that there is an emergency. The adrenals now come online and secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which results in the body waking up – often with a rapid heartbeat, sweating, racing thoughts, etc. Think about it – your body just got the message there was an emergency – so now you’re wide awake. The other thing that happens when blood sugar crashes in the middle of the night and cortisol levels rise is that melatonin production diminishes. We already know that’s not a good thing…

No alcohol after dinner

Remember that alcohol is essentially sugar. The same thing that happens when you eat high-sugar foods after dinner (see above), happens when we drink alcohol before bed. A new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that alcohol just before sleep can lead to poorer quality slumber7. According to the findings, on the nights the study participants drank alcohol, people showed more slow wave sleep patterns, and more so-called delta activity – a process linked to the restorative aspects of deeper sleep, when memories are firmed up, the brain’s detritus is cleared out and hard-working neurons get some much-needed replenishment. But that wasn’t the only thing going on in their brains. At the same time, alpha wave patterns were also heightened, which doesn’t happen during normal sleep. Alpha activity tends to occur when the brain is awake but quietly resting, in metabolic break mode. Having both delta and alpha activity together therefore leads to disrupted sleep, since the alpha functions tend to offset any restorative efforts the brain neurons are trying to squeeze in. In fact, such dual activity patterns are typically seen among people with chronic pain conditions and in lab-based studies where people are intentionally given electric shocks while they slept. In previous studies, such warring alpha-delta brain patterns during sleep have been linked to daytime drowsiness, waking up not feeling rested, and symptoms like headaches and irritability. “Deep sleep is when the body restores itself, and alcohol can interfere with this,” explains Dr John Shneerson, head of the sleep centre at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge. “As the alcohol starts to wear off, your body can come out of deep sleep and back into REM sleep, which is much easier to wake from. That’s why you often wake up after just a few hours sleep when you’ve been drinking.” In the course of a night you usually have six to seven cycles of REM sleep, which leaves you feeling refreshed. However, if you’ve been drinking you’ll typically have only one to two, meaning you can wake feeling exhausted. If you are drinking alcohol, try to avoid it too close to bedtime. Give your body time to process the alcohol you’ve had before you try to sleep – on average it takes an hour to process one unit, but this can vary widely from person to person.

Get frisky

Seriously. Sex encourages the production of oxytocin (helping you and your partner to “bond”), in addition to inhibiting the release of the stress-inducing hormone cortisol. This hormonal reconfiguration, if you will, leaves the body feeling naturally more relaxed, resulting in a deeper, more relaxed, state of slumber.

Resources

1. Melatonin: shedding light on infertility?
2. Just Say No to Wi-Fi
3. Study Shows A Bidirectional Relationship Between Chronic Stress And Sleep Problems
4. Sleep Disturbance and Older Adultsʼ Inflammatory Responses to Acute Stress
5. Work and Sleep – A Prospective Study of Psychosocial Work Factors, Physical Work Factors, and Work Scheduling
6. Physical Activity Impacts Overall Quality of Sleep
7. Alcohol and Sleep I: Effects on Normal Sleep

Let’s Talk!

I’d love to use this space as a forum of sorts, providing inspiration and community among my readers, so … I want to hear from you!

What’s your favorite way to ensure you get a good night’s sleep?

How do you manage your daily stressors so they don’t keep you up at night?

Do you have an evening ritual to help you wind down and prepare for a deep sleep?

Spread some quality sleep lovin’! Sharing is caring, and I bet you have some friends who would love to read this too :).

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